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Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection is a potentially important cause of acute respiratory illness in many populations, including military recruits receiving basic training. Understanding the full impact of RSV infection is challenging because of difficulties in diagnosis and the limitations of past epidemiologic studies. In this study, we set out to determine the prevalence and clinical characteristics of RSV infection and infection caused by other common viral agents in a population of previously healthy young adults, namely, military recruits receiving basic training.In addition to standard viral culture techniques, we employed serologic testing and a recently described, novel, highly sensitive real-time PCR and a molecular beacon probe assay for the detection of RSV infection.Among 256 military trainees with respiratory symptoms, RSV infection was identified in 11% by means of serologic testing and real-time PCR. Viral culture identified adenovirus in 48% of symptomatic recruits, influenza viruses in 11%, parainfluenza virus 3 in 3%, and enterovirus in <1%. The majority of recruits with RSV infection experienced a nonproductive cough, sore throat, and nasal congestion, and almost half reported symptoms of wheeze or shortness of breath. Almost all (94%) of the recruits lost ≥1 day(s) from training because of illness.This study demonstrates the challenges of diagnosis and clinical significance of RSV infection in symptomatic young adults. RSV may account for 11% of clinically important respiratory illnesses in this population, which is as much as 25% of previously undiagnosed illness. These results have implications for treatment and prevention of RSV in young adults.